This Side of Jehenem


The Washington Post recently ran this front-page follow-up to the intentional massacre of 26 Baghdad children in mid-July. This appalling event was only the most recent such targeting of children by a malevolent jihadi; these murderers presumably believe that by killing themselves and those children standing too near an American, they gain martyrdom and the reward of paradise.

Yet in Arabic, the name of Hell itself is associated with the murder of children. Hell's most common name among Arabs is Jehenem, derived from the Valley of Gehena outside the walls of Jerusalem. In antiquity, this valley was an infamous place of ritual child sacrifice, and the horrors evoked by its name were long ago transferred to the concept of damnation.

In a sense it's quite appropriate that the name for Hell used by so many Muslims has such a root. One of the benefits of Islam's original spread was an end to the once-common pagan practice of infanticide, usually of girl infants, and most commonly by exposure. Jihadis today apparently see such things—children and murder, Heaven and Hell—differently.